For pain management, infertility issues, stress relief, and more, patients and physicians are increasingly turning to the ancient practice of acupuncture.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the treatment centers around an almost mystical-sounding premise, as hairthin needles are inserted into specific points on the body in order to affect the flow of energy, or “qi” (pronounced “chee”), throughout the body.
But local acupuncturist and chiropractor Dr. Heather Ferlitch says the science of acupuncture is not so mystical after all.
“Acupuncture works to improve the circulation of the overall body. If a person suffers from low back pain, for example, putting a needle in it improves the circulation, allowing for more oxygen to flow to the tissues while ridding the area of inflammation. It allows your body to produce more of its own healing endorphins and painkillers,” she said. “It also helps to relax the muscles, and then it changes the feedback loop to the brain, and how your brain perceives pain.”
The owner of Fusion Chiropractic and Acupuncture in State College, Ferlitch received an undergraduate degree in biology before earning a Master’s of Science in Acupuncture from the Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She also studied in China, and while she describes her approach as a mix of both modern Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, she says she has a very science-based view of acupuncture.
“There are over 350 different acupuncture points on the body, and the main acupuncture points that are used over and over are often where there is a big nerve bundle,” she explained. “You can put a needle in a point on the lower leg called ‘stomach 36’ and put that person through an FMRI machine, and it will show the function of the stomach increase. Western medicine can’t say exactly how, but the theory is that it’s influencing the nerves to the stomach.”
While Ferlitch said she treats many patients with digestive issues like chronic constipation, Crohn’s disease, or irritable bowel syndrome, the top two issues she treats are pain and infertility.
“It’s been proven that whenever a woman utilizes acupuncture in addition to IVF, it increases her chances of getting pregnant by 65 percent,” she said. “To date, I’ve only had one patient not be able to get pregnant when they’re going through IVF… Helping someone achieve pregnancy is one of the most rewarding things I do.”
Pain management is the number one reason patients seek treatment at Fusion Chiropractic and Acupuncture. Many of Ferlitch’s pain management patients are veterans referred by the VA who are trying to avoid or cut back on opioid use. Other common reasons patients seek acupuncture include headaches, allergies, depression and anxiety, and women’s health issues. Ferlitch also treats many patients with autoimmune disorders.
“Acupuncture has been proven to boost the immune system. A lot of people with autoimmune diseases that can’t get relief anywhere else will say they notice an
improvement in their symptoms by getting regular acupuncture,” she said.
Diane Kramer is one such patient.
“I sought out acupuncture in 2017 at the encouragement of my neurologist, to help decrease the occurrence and impact of muscle spasms I experienced as a result of multiple sclerosis,” Kramer said. “Now, after about two years of acupuncture therapy, I am a complete advocate of the technique.”
Kramer said she generally receives acupuncture treatments once every three or four weeks. According to Ferlitch, a typical session lasts approximately 30 to 40 minutes, and she cautions that several sessions are usually required before a patient sees results.
“It’s like an antibiotic or any kind of prescription — you would never just take one pill and expect to feel 100 percent better. It takes a few sessions.”
Many people are initially hesitant to try the treatment due to a fear of needles, Ferlitch said, but she points out that the needles used in acupuncture are not much wider than a strand of hair, do not cut the skin, and are nothing like the hypodermic needles used for shots. Treatments are not painful, and there are no side effects.
“The first time a person comes in, they might be nervous about the needles and they might not be able to really relax, but usually by the second or third visit, they fall asleep during treatment,” she said.
Ferlitch has been practicing acupuncture for eight years, and says that she has noticed a shift over the past couple of years, as major insurance companies have expanded their coverage to include acupuncture treatments, and Ferlitch has been receiving more referrals from local physicians.
She said she has seen more hospitals such as Sloan Kettering Cancer Center employing acupuncturists to offset the side effects of chemotherapy, and even zoos are increasingly using acupuncture on their animals. All of this points to acupuncture becoming more mainstream and accepted by Western society and modern medicine.
“I think people are looking for alternatives,” Ferlitch said. “People are wanting different options, and they don’t necessarily want to go straight to pharmaceuticals. Or, the drugs or other therapies they’re using aren’t enough, so they’re looking to supplement that.”
Fusion Chiropractic and Acupuncture is located at 233 Easterly Parkway, Suite 105, and can be reached at (814) 810-7123.